Paper Boats – a short story
March 6, 2018 § 8 Comments
‘The river’s different today,’ she said, speaking the words as if they might break.
‘How?’ He replied. She gave no sign she’d heard him as she began to scratch the dull orange lichen lacing the parapet of the millpond bridge. Her fingers bled and soaked into the crumbling brick. ‘That must hurt,’ he said.
‘What? What must?’
‘Your fingers.’ She didn’t answer, but suddenly leaned too far over the parapet. Robert jerked as if stung, his hand flying to the small of her back.
‘Look’, she pointed. ‘The trout are back’. An arc of sunlight streaked through the crack willow leaning away from the bank as if it would surely fall, and the bright patch of water glittered as the river trout flickered silver in the light. Robert held her tight.
‘They like the warmth,’ he said.
‘No, no,’ she insisted. ‘They’re playing.’
He breathed in deep. ‘So how is the river different today?’
‘That day it was screaming. Today it whispers.’
Robert had become her bridge to before. Every day he had sat stiffly on the hard cane chair in the white hospital room, and read her poetry. After a while, when the pills had begun to shield her from the past, he took her walking in the grounds amongst the trees. Today, she had asked to be taken beyond the gates. ‘To the river,’ she breathed.
‘Shall we walk now?’ Robert slid his arm around her shoulders and eased her away from the bridge.
‘No,’ she replied, the skin around her eyes wrinkling into a smile. ‘It’s quite safe. I won’t do anything silly’. She took a small square of white paper from her pocket and began to fold. Creasing and tucking, her blood staining the paper, she folded again and again. She blew sharply on a seam and flattened the shape with two fingers. ‘Look,’ she smiled, holding the boat in her palm. ‘That was what we were doing.’ She blew again, and the boat fluttered from her hand and rocked through the air above the water. It landed on its side and drifted under the crack willow. ‘Yes,’ she said. ‘Now I remember. The river was full after the thaw. It screamed at us to stay away. It spat at us as it spewed from under the bridge. We stood there.’ She nodded towards the willow. ‘We took no notice.’
‘You were on the bank to float paper boats?’
‘I was showing him what happened to the rain on its way to the sea. James thought the river was angry. He wanted to give it our boat… he didn’t hear my warning. He slipped, and the current…’
Her paper boat hit the bank and quivered. Again and again the ripples pushed it into the bank. ‘It will sink,’ sighed Robert.
‘Wait,’ she urged, tears trickling down her cheeks. The breeze suddenly changed direction and lifting the boat upright, it floated downstream.
‘I’m finished here, she said, taking his arm. ‘We can go home.’